Carbon Offsetting Scheme for International Aviation: a global tool for climate change

In 2016, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) adopted the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) to address CO2 emissions from international aviation. A historic decision, which for the first time has seen a single industrial sector adhere to a global program to offset emissions.

CORSIA is the first global carbon pricing tool to cover an entire industry. The significance of this agreement is an important political achievement as the divergent views of the 192 ICAO member states have been reconciled into a single mechanism that considers their respective peculiarities, circumstances and capabilities.

Unfortunately, the success of CORSIA could be compromised by the national policies of some states, it is worrying that some states are applying or assessing the application of a tool for determining the price of carbon or a tax on tickets to deal with emissions international air transport, as well as the Carbon Offsetting Scheme of International Aviation.

Although emissions from national aviation are subject to country-specific actions and therefore fall within the scope of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, international cooperation, including to address environmental impacts, is fundamental to a sector like aviation.

The benefits of air travel are clear, but this connectivity creates an environmental challenge. In 2016, it is estimated that civil aviation has emitted about 814 million tons of CO2, or about 2% of the carbon emissions produced by man.

CORSIA's environmental integrity

CORSIA will produce a greater CO2 mitigation in international aviation compared to any internal policy. A reduction of about 2.5 billion tons of CO2 is expected between 2021 and 2035, or an annual average of 164 million tons of CO2.

Carbon Offset and carbon markets are a key component of global, regional and national emission reduction policies. They have operated for decades for compliance purposes and voluntary emission reductions and continue to be an effective mechanism to support concrete and effective action against climate change.

There are many ways to achieve CO2 reductions that can be used as offsets, many of which in addition to contributing to climate change mitigation produce important social, environmental and economic benefits that are essential for sustainable development.

To ensure CORSIA's environmental integrity, certain requirements have been adopted, including:

  • It is fundamental that the reduction or removal of CO2 used as compensation is "additional" to the project activity. Offsets must represent a permanent reduction in emissions.
  • The emissions reductions will have to be quantified using accurate measurements, valid protocols and internationally recognized; it is necessary to determine a baseline to determine what would have happened if the project had not been carried out.
  • Keep track of the units to prevent a reduction in emissions from being counted more than once (double counting).

This represents a real investment, it is estimated that around USD 40 billion will be invested in climate projects with benefits for local communities. It is also expected that the adoption of CORSIA will result in a reduction of about 2.5 billion tons of CO2 between 2021 and 2035. That is an annual average of 164 million tons of CO2: the equivalent to the annual CO2 emitted by the countries Netherlands.

Global goals to address the environmental impact of international aviation

All operators with annual emissions exceeding 10,000 tonnes of CO2 are required to report their emissions on an annual basis, with monitoring starting from January 2019 (international flights only). Operators must keep track of their fuel consumption for each individual flight in order to calculate CO2 emissions.

In order to guarantee the accuracy of the data communicated by the operators, the annual emissions reports must be verified by an independent verification body; the compensation requirements will apply from 2021, at the end of each compliance period (3 years), the operators will have to demonstrate that they have met their offset requirements.

The aviation industry has set three objectives to address its environmental impact and contribute to the fight against climate change:

  1. An average annual improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% by 2020
  2. Stabilize net CO2 emissions at 2020 levels with zero-emission growth
  3. Reduce the net CO2 emissions of the aviation sector to half of those that were in 2005, by 2050.

Achieving these ambitious goals will require constant investment in new technologies and strong support mechanisms for the affirmation of sustainable aviation. Technology certainly plays a key role in the transition to a low carbon economy, and there is no doubt that the development of new, more efficient (and sustainable) aircraft and engines can drastically reduce CO2 emissions.

Technology, operational measures and a better infrastructure will provide long-term solutions to ensure the sustainable growth of the aviation industry through a strong partnership between industry and government.
Carbon Offsetting Scheme for International Aviation: a global tool for climate change